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10,000 Years Ago, Your Neighbor’s Pet Was a T Rex

Three miles from the Catholic Answers office stands the Creation and Earth History Museum and Bookstore. It’s situated on a frontage road next to State Route 67. It’s easy to spot. It’s the only building in the area with a life-size dinosaur outside.

The museum was established in 1992 by Henry M. Morris’s Creation Research Institute. When CRI moved to Texas in 2008, the museum was transferred to a local couple who have kept it going. According to its website, the museum “remains dedicated to the biblical account of science and history. The facilities include a 10,000 sq. ft. showcase for a literal six-day creation and young Earth, including a human anatomy exhibit, life-size tabernacle display, age of the Earth cave and more.”

The museum exists to promote creationism, which needs to be distinguished from creation.

Every Christian who recites the creed affirms creation, which is the making of something out of nothing: “I believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and Earth.” This nothing is not, as Lawrence Krauss and other New Atheists hold, unformed or plasmatic matter, nor is it energy or some substance not yet identified. It isn’t even empty space or mere dimensionality. It literally is “no thing.”

To bring anything out of nothing is to bring it out of the absence of everything. This is not possible for man, angels, demiurges, or anyone else you can imagine, other than God himself. We can transform things. Only God can create things. Speaking loosely, we may say that a sculptor “creates” something from clay, but in reality he only transforms the clay. He starts with something, not with nothing.

Creationism, as the suffix suggests, includes creation but goes beyond it. Like other isms, it is an ideology, particularly in the form known as “scientific creationism,” which has been around for about half a century. In the beginning (a good biblical phrase), creationism was an exclusively American phenomenon. That no longer is the case.

Henry M. Morris (1918-2006) and his allies were successful in spreading their ideas around the world. CRI and similar organizations have produced hundreds of books, pamphlets, and videos in scores of languages. So successful has the movement been that one of its proponents, Answers in Genesis, bills itself as the country’s largest apologetics organization. With a budget of $19 million, it probably is.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, few Protestants taught that the Earth was as young as 10,000 years. Most such people were found among the Seventh-day Adventists. That changed five decades ago.

Historian of science Ronald L. Numbers says, “Following the publication of The Genesis Flood (1961) by the Fundamentalists John C. Whitcomb, Jr., and Henry M. Morris, this radical alternative broke from its Adventist moorings and cut a broad swath through conservative Protestantism.” First the movement spread to English-speaking countries, then throughout Europe, and finally to Asia, Latin America, and Africa.

Today the movement isn’t confined to Protestant Fundamentalists. Not a few Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Jews, and Muslims adhere to it. They believe that the world is young—some say as young as 6,000 years, others say 10,000 years—and that evolution, even if theoretically possible, could not have had time to work itself out. Plants and animals as we see them today are pretty much what they were on Day One, except that many species (such as that dinosaur outside the museum) have gone extinct.

The museum’s online bookstore offers 22 books on geology. I have several of them, not because I subscribe to the young-Earth hypothesis (I don’t) but because I want to understand the arguments of those who do. When it comes to creationism, my interest largely is limited to questions of geology. Biological evolution is not something that fascinates me the way it fascinates others, pro or con. Some people think evolution is the most important topic in the world. I’m unable to share their enthusiasm. I’m more interested in the testimony of the rocks.

Perhaps my interest in geology stems from having done much backpacking over the last decade and a half in areas containing remarkable formations, such as the Grand Canyon, or maybe it goes back to my youth, when I collected minerals and had an ever-rotating rock tumbler in the family garage. (All that is gone now, save a Mohs’ scale-of-hardness set: I still have a plastic box with nine of the ten minerals that, through scratching, are used to test the hardness of other minerals. The only mineral I’m missing—because my kit never had it—is the diamond.)

The people at the Creation and Earth History Museum and Bookstore hold that the stratigraphic layers we see in places such as the Grand Canyon were laid down rapidly during the Flood. The creationist books I have don’t explain very well where the raw material for those layers came from or why, in places such as the Grand Canyon, you find several hundred vertical feet of sandstone followed by several hundred vertical feet of limestone followed by several hundred vertical feet of more sandstone. Why wasn’t all that rock just jumbled together? 

Creationists say that the layers were eroded as quickly as they were deposited, when a pent-up lake located off to the east broke through a barrier and sent waters rushing across what later would be northern Arizona. The result was the chasm we see today from Moran Point and Desert View Tower.

I think there are insuperable problems with this theory. Just one: if the waters came from the east and flowed west, carrying material to the Gulf of California, we’d expect to see only an east-west riverbed, but nearly all of the erosion at the Grand Canyon has been from the north rim heading south and from the south rim heading north. These miles-long side canyons are transverse to the way the water would have flowed, had it come from a lake off to the east.

Creationism’s proponents believe that Genesis necessitates a young Earth. That notion leads them to concoct geological arguments that aren’t credible. They unwittingly demonstrate that, although the Bible doesn’t teach science, if you take the Bible wrongly, you end up with bad science.

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